One of the most important pieces of kit you need to consider is what shoes to take with you on the trails. There are hundreds of different businesses churning out hiking shoes faster than you can try them on, so we’ve put together a guide that gives you advice on the crucial things to look for when buying hiking shoes, and a quick look at some of the best hiking shoe brands.
Keep in mind that the brands being reviewed is not exhaustive, but is only a list of which brands customers keep coming back to.
What to Look For in Hiking Boots
When choosing a new pair of hiking boots, there are a few things to consider, although the most important factor that we cannot stress enough is how the shoe fits.
You can buy the lightest, strongest, most cost-effective super shoe, but if they give you blisters every time you walk to the end of your driveway, all those great features amount to diddly-squat.
Make sure you’re wearing your chosen hiking socks and take any insoles you may use. Aim for a shoe that gives your toes plenty of wiggle room, hug your heel (but not too tight!) and aren’t too tight on the sides of your feet. Remember, your feet are likely to swell after a few hours of hiking.
Next, you need to think about the type of hiking you’re going to be doing. Are you going to be hiking at altitude, in tropical climates, through parks, mountains or beaches? Try to hone in on exactly what you need in a shoe.
For example, avoid fully waterproof leather boots if you’re going to be trekking in wet, tropical climates. Water penetration is inevitable and those bulky leather boots aren’t going to dry anytime soon. On top of that, they’ll be so hot you’ll be eating steamed toes for dinner. Check out our piece on the top mountaineering boots to help you with more options.
Use waterproof boots if you can expect a little rain and go for breathable, quick-drying shoes if you’re going to be soaked to the skin. At higher altitudes the terrain is likely to be more perilous, not to mention a lot colder, so a warmer boot with deeper tread is preferable.
Every boot comes with a huge range of extra features, and there’s no time to debate them all. Just think carefully about what you actually need and don’t sacrifice a comfortable fit for an extra-feature that may just be sales talk.
This is extremely important. Not only will you save money with a more durable shoe, losing the sole of your shoe or ripping a hole in the middle of a trek is going to be more than uncomfortable, and if you lack a backup pair, this could cut your hike short. Think about what material is best for your needs.
Consider leather or rubber/leather hybrid materials for longer-lasting shoes. Reinforced sections of a shoe naturally add to durability, whilst materials such as breathable mesh or foam are notoriously weak and prone to wear and tear.
Lugging around heavy shoes is greatly going to increase exhaustion. Over time, naturally your muscles will grow and adapt to the extra weight, but over an extended period of time, every ounce counts. Don’t make life harder on yourself and aim for the lightest shoe possible that doesn’t sacrifice strength. It’s also worth considering if you go hiking or trekking abroad, you want to minimize the weight of your pack as much as possible, for flights and for comfort.
This is somewhat a no-brainer. If your budget only extends so far, you’re completely restricted in what you can buy. Sometimes, a cheaper shoe can be improved by spending the saved money on a decent set of insoles. Though be careful, cheaper shoes are often poorly made and use weaker materials. You might find a comfortable shoe for half the price as the leading brand, but find they wear out three times faster.
Ok, so now you’ve found a range of hiking shoes that fit perfectly to your feet and have all the features you need. Congratulations, you’ve narrowed down the possibilities of about 10,000 to just 10. It took a long time but you’ve now got a small range of hiking boots to choose from.
Naturally, different brands focus on different areas. Whilst one brand might offer the lightest, strongest shoes in town, they’re likely to come with a hefty price-tag. But there’s no need to worry, we’ve gathered of some of the most reputable hiking shoe brands and collated their pros and cons, allowing you to decide what’s best.
To find out the basic differences of hiking shoes and hiking boots, see our earlier article on this.
The Brands Customers Love
This list is by no means extensive, but these are the brands that customers keep coming back to, again and again. It wouldn’t hurt to take a look at these and see if any of them fit your hiking lifestyle.
Ideal for casual walking and trekking. Many users prefer the Merrell brand as an everyday shoe, suitable for an active lifestyle. They’re durable, comfortable and lightweight, whilst a Vibram outsole ensures a strong footing in a variety of conditions. Some users have advised that Merrell’s walking boots are merely an extension of their shoes, and remain too casual for hardcore hiking. Sadly, we have to agree.
They just aren’t as durable as other reputable brands. If you’re happy to sacrifice strength for style, then by all means Merrell may be just for you, and they’re very affordable, though not recommended for the die-hard hiker.
Pros: Stylish, Widely-applicable, affordable
Cons: Not recommended for extreme conditions, Not as durable as other brands
Salomon are consistently winning awards for their wide range of trekking boots, hiking shoes and trail-runners, and it’s easy to see why. Salomon’s shoes are comfortable and light enough to run in, whilst offering great stability and traction in the most difficult of terrain.
With great water-resistance and durability that’ll see you through a lot of muddy trails, this brand is popular with religious hikers and campers alike. On the downside, Salomon products often extend outside the budget of a casual hiker, and are a little heavy for daily use.
Pros: Water-resistant, lightweight, durable
Cons: Expensive, Relatively heavy
Ideal for casual hikers. This low-cost brand offers comfortable fits and reasonable durability. The main selling point of this brand is its affordability. If you’re only venturing out on the trails every few months or so, then this is an ideal brand. Whilst they won’t last nearly as long as a good pair of Salomon or Keen boots, Hi-Tec offer good traction and are applicable to a wide range of terrains.
Hi-Tec commonly constructs the outsides of their products from leather, which whilst being a huge downside for vegetarians and vegans, does mean that some parts of the shoe are very durable. Unfortunately, the lightweight, padded parts of the shoes are more susceptible to decay. If you’re out hiking most weekends, in extreme terrains or going traveling for an extended period, you may want to splash out on something a bit stronger.
Pros: Affordable, Widely-applicable, Lightweight
Cons: Not as durable as other brands, Often made with leather
As with most premium hiking brands, you can expect Vasque hiking shoes to be lightweight and durable. A wide selection of shoes and boots increases your chances of a perfect fit. Many Vasque fans have advised that this brand is comfortable from the get-go, but as with most brands, after a year or so of strenuous hiking the inside foam and fabric at the back heel will wear down.
Vasque offer a decent selection of women’s boots that are stylish, feminine and still not overly girly, whilst retaining everything you’d expect from decent hiking footwear. The Ultradry range from Vasque are 100% waterproof, and whilst this is exceptional for the over ankle snow-boots, this can cause problems with the regular shoes.
Pros: Comfortable straight out the box, Stylish, Lightweight, Durable, Great tread
Cons: Synthetic inner fabric
As you’d expect from all good hiking brands, Keen are very proud of their sustainable practices and preserving the planet that we so love to explore. Raw materials are sourced responsibly around the world and then processed in their Portland based factory. Keen boast a Million Step Comfort midsole, ensuring that you’ll still love your Keen shoes after countless hikes.
Some users have advised that the soles wear out relatively quickly, which at a relatively high price can put off a lot of people. On the other hand, Keen are known for the customer service and will offer replacements with little fuss should you experience problems.
Pros: Sustainable & responsible company, Made in the USA, Great customer service, Super-comfortable
Cons: Not as durable as other brands
Teva began specializing in high quality sandals, something strong enough to withstand rocks, rivers and mountains, whilst comfortable enough that you won’t find red sore marks where the straps hold your feet. Recently Teva have branched out into hiking shoes and boots. Breathable, waterproof lining comes as standard and Teva products are very lightweight.
Some users have advised that Teva products can fit a little too snugly and so it may be wise to buy a size up, but as with all hiking shoes, never buy before you try them on. Many products by Teva are made from leather and so can pose a problem for vegan or vegetarian hikers. Though for warmer climates, Teva sandals are some of the best.
Pros: Stylish, Lightweight, Breathable, Good-grip
Cons: Leather, Tight-fit
Famous around the world for producing a wide range of camping and hiking products, Columbia’s hiking shoes definitely won’t disappoint. They wrap around the foot comfortably and are very breathable ensuring your feet won’t sweat to death. Columbia often utilizes a leather-rubber hybrid that increases water retention, whilst preventing your feet from sweating buckets.
Non-vibram soles mean that whilst other brands might have greater traction, Columbia’s products won’t have you slipping and sliding down the mountainside. The traditional soles hold up very well. In fact, the rubber soles, waterproof materials and leather top sections makes Columbia’s hiking boots favourites for the snow.
Pros: Comfortable, Supportive, Great for snow
Cons: Non-vibram soles
Highly regarded for producing some of the lightest hiking boots and shoes on the market, Ahnu remains extremely popular and frequently finds their way into many lists of top performing hiking brands. With shoes reaching as low as 1.3lbs and natural fabrics, Ahnu products are fantastic for daily use and extended hikes.
Ahnu products are famously comfortable with flexibility where needed and stable sides. Vibram soles provide great traction that keeps your feet firmly on the ground, even on steep gradients. On the downside, many users have reported Ahnu products to be slightly narrow, which can of course cause problems further down the line.
Pros: Extremely lightweight, Comfortable, Good Traction
Cons: Slightly narrow, Not as durable as other brands
There’s a lot to say about Lowa, especially in regards to durability, strength and comfort. Lowa have long been favorites of many hikers, offering unparalleled support and strength. Often using Vibram soles that ensure grip on a variety of loose surfaces and at steep gradients. The majority of mountains and sierras won’t pose a problem.
The midsoles usually have monowrap technology that ensures great shock absorption, underfoot protection and durability. On average, hikers find much greater longevity with Lowa, with hiking boots often lasting upwards of 5 years, meaning that if you buy a well-fitting pair, you won’t need to go shopping for a long time.
The expected tradeoff with such a durable brand is that Lowa boots and shoes aren’t known for their flexibility or agility, though when trying on a pair, you should soon realize whether you can handle the weight and maneuverability. The weight is unfortunately compounded by thick padding, although this does greatly increase comfort. Like Salomon, Lowa often receive a variety of awards for hiking equipment.
Pros: Extremely durable (includes 5 year guarantee), Comfortable, Waterproof, Great traction
Cons: Slightly heavy, Expensive
Extremely stylish and highly applicable to a variety of situations, Danner have been consistently one of the most popular and fashionable brands in the outdoor industry. Manufactured in Portland, USA, this brand has reigned supreme for over 40 years and is considered one of the premier makes in the world.
Danner products are great for durability and are easily repairable, with fixable soles and easy to buff leather means that this brand can last an extremely long time if well maintained. Like a classic car, mileage means nothing if regularly spruced up and well-kept.
Vibram outsoles ensure solid support and great traction whilst polyurethane interiors provide great shock prevention. Uniform leather and minimal stitching means that this brand isn’t quite as breathable as the more modern style boots, though users advise this isn’t a huge problem. On top of everything, Danner products are well known for an easy fit and unparalleled comfort.
Pros: Iconic, Easily-repairable, Durable
Cons: Not as breathable as other brands, Slightly heavy
Known for making high quality boots and shoes crammed with more features than you can shake an anti-shock telescoping hiking pole at. Asolo hiking shoes are made entirely in Europe, producing a flexible, lightweight product that won’t compromise on comfort or strength.
Highly breathable yet waterproof fabrics keeps your feet dry and cool in even jungle climates, and high ankle protection not only provides increased stability but prevents water and snow soaking your feet as well. Asolo often opt for a high-density midsole as opposed to a lightweight EVA midsole favored by most brands.
This gives your mid-foot more stability and strengthens the center of the shoe. A leather/nylon hybrid material means Asolo products often have greater longevity as opposed to their competitors, with shoes often lasting up to several years.
Pros: Lightweight, Durable, Extremely comfortable
Cons: Support could be improved
So Which Brand Should I Choose?
As we stated earlier, you should always assess your needs before purchasing a pair of hiking shoes. Make sure you carefully consider weight, strength, water-resistance, stability and cost when making your choices. Often different brands excel with different types of shoes, and finally the most important thing is to find the shoe that fits. For more tips on how to choose hiking boots, see our article on this topic.
If you have a favorite brand that we’ve forgotten or want to rant or rave about a specific shoe, then don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!